Sewing & Craft

Gemma’s adventures in sewing… - (archived)

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A bit of a departure from the shopping-related norm today…I want to talk about my latest rediscovered hobby, sewing!

My mom taught me to sew when I was about 12, and I made quite a few of my own dresses when I was a teenager. Nothing beats the thrill of putting on a garment you’ve made yourself. Not only is it a guaranteed one-off, but if you struggle to find clothes to fit all or a specific part of your body, learning to sew means you can make things fit perfectly. So few women make clothes any more, which I think is a real shame. We can buy things so easily (and often so cheaply) that it often seems a waste of time to sew our own clothes. But I think it’s a real shame that we’ve stopped at least learning the basics, as it’s a really good skill to have.

That said, the last time I did any ‘proper’ sewing was when I made my dress for the school leaver’s meal. Since then, apart from the odd cushion cover or armchair cover, I’ve not really had the time to get behind the sewing machine despite having one at my disposal. I have a handful of patterns and a box full of fabric but actually sitting down and finishing a project seems to have eluded me to this point.

But then my friend Kat said she wanted her bridesmaids dresses made from Liberty print fabric. I was her maid of honour, so I offered to make my dress (her mum made the others). The joy of sewing for yourself is that you can tailor things precisely and try on as you go, meaning a perfect fit by the end, and I do love a good challenge!

Kat picked the fabric (a Liberty pink and cream pansy print) and the pattern, which was McCalls 5319, a now-discontinued 50s inspired party dress with a ruched waist panel, full skirt, and crossover bust with wide straps. It’s definitely a pattern designed with the curvier woman in mind. In fact the other bridesmaids eventually ended up with a different dress because this one swamped their slim figures.

I won’t go into reams and reams of detail about the pattern, except to warn that the sizing is really off, and though I cut the size that corresponded to my bust, hip and waist measurements for the toile (a practice in a much cheaper fabric – see left on the photo) I ended up having to take it in a lot, and went down almost two sizes by the time I made the real thing. I did lose some weight during that time, but definitely not two dress sizes! I also had to take the waist up by about two inches. I have a short torso anyway, but this pattern does appear to have been made for a giant.

Sewing it was fairly straightforward, however. If I could follow the pattern after almost 10 years of not sewing, then I’m sure nobody else would have trouble. Technique-wise, it was a bit fiddy in places – there are a lot of gathers (on the bust, back, waist panel and skirt) and at times you’re sewing up to four layers of dress and lining at one time, which can be tricky. I’d advise people to use a similar colour thread to tack and gather the waist section rather than a contrasting one, because removing multiple layers of tacking thread can be difficult once you’ve sewn all the layers together, and you do end up with lots of tacking thread as you secure various layers and gathers along the way.

Here I am with the wedding A Team (the gorgeous bride Kat and our fabulous friend Darika) in the finished dress (topped off with a Miss Selfridge lace cape). I was really happy with how it turned out. The fit-and-flare shape is a favourite of mine anyway because my waist is my smallest part, but I rarely wear light colours because of my pale skin, so I had to get used to that! I’ve got a fair amount of fake tan on in the pictures, would you believe!

The one thing I did learn a bit too late with this pattern is that the dress is far more revealing around the bust on photos than it seemed in real life. I’m quite big up top and constantly aware of showing inappropriate amounts of cleavage, so I fiddled with the dress a lot! If I made it again, I might cut a larger bust section and cross it over more in the middle for a bit more coverage, or perhaps adjust the gathers to accommodate.

Now I’ve got the bug again, I’m going to start sewing a lot more. I’ve been given an early birthday present of an adjustable dressmaker’s dummy, so I can now pin and fit to my measurements in the future. Next on the list is a vintage 50s sundress in peach with white polka dots. So watch this space!

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  • Reply Missbaah July 27, 2010 at 1:15 pm

    After 10 years you can still produce a dress like that? I'm impressed. I'm supposedly having a a new sewing machine delivered today (…..though no sign of it yet. boo) and I'm VERY much looking forward to making a dress of my own.

  • Reply Gemma July 27, 2010 at 1:17 pm

    I think it must be like riding a bike – you never forget how to do it! But I also recommend making a toile and getting the mistakes out of the way on that. I did my fair share of silly things in the trial run (like putting the straps on the wrong way and tacking the skirt on inside out).

  • Reply MillyMelon July 27, 2010 at 1:38 pm

    I love sewing myself dresses, although I don't do as much as I'd like. I can highly recommend buying vintage patterns – lots available on ebay, etsy etc. Vintage patterns are single-size, so much easier to cut out and I find the instructions really easy to follow and the finished article is kind of authentic! Note that vintage sizes are different obviously, so buy them by body measurement, not dress size.

  • Reply Lauren July 29, 2010 at 2:24 pm

    This is great as I'm trying to learn to sew at the moment – the last three generations of my family have seamstresses but my mum never had the patience to teach me! It's such a useful skill to have, especially as now everything is mass produced there's no way to get a decent fit off the rack.

    The dress itself is gorgeous, well done!

  • Reply verystef March 5, 2012 at 10:01 pm

    Well done! I’d love to sew but so far any excursions into that has led to scrunched up fabrics, knotted thread and lost needles! I am still hoping that one day I’ll get it together and actually do a course…
    The dress is lovely by the way.

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